Four Roads Cross

June 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

roadsFour Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

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I had high hopes for the Craft Sequence. It came recommended to me by a friend of mine, and I had already planned to read it based on an article Gladstone wrote about how character drives story. The first book, with its integrated world-building and fascinating ideas, certainly impressed, but the more I read of it, the less interesting they get. With Four Roads Cross, ironically, I realized it was because the characters didn’t resonate with me. They weren’t two-dimensional, but neither could I relate to them.

Four Roads Cross is the first book in the series that feels like an actual sequel. It follows chronologically from Three Parts Dead, the first book published (if you didn’t know, the two chronologies don’t fit together), and it features not just Tara Abernathy, one of the main characters from that book, but it also touches every main character from all of the books in the series. The plot centers on Kos Everburning and Alt Coulumb, but with the revival of Seril, Kos’ old lover, it brings into question the reliability of all the loans taken out against Kos.

(Which, I believe, could be another aspect of the stories that grew tiresome: the whole lawyer-banking aspect of the magic system. It was neat for one book, but over the course of the entire series, it’s about as exciting as paste.)

There’s another book coming near the end of this year, and I’m waffling over whether to read it. On the one hand, I can’t imagine reading it right now, after struggling to get through this one for several weeks; on the other hand, if enough time passes between these books and that one, maybe I’ll find something more to like in it. It’s hard to say, but I’m at least not going to cancel my pre-order just yet.

Like Full Fathom Five, there are a lot of interesting pieces in the story, but overall it strikes me as dull. I’m well aware that I’m in the minority with that sentiment — the two- and one-star ratings on Goodreads account for a mere 4% of all ratings — but I stand by it. I have no special feelings for urban fantasy, though, and I recognize that reading these books all together as I did didn’t help, but there it is.

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Last First Snow

June 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

snowLast First Snow by Max Gladstone

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I tore through the first half of Last First Snow, which isn’t something I could say about Full Fathom Five. I’m not sure why, save for the fact that there wasn’t as much world-building to deal with before getting to the heart of the story. This book revisits locations and characters already shown in the Craft Sequence, so it moves straight in to the characters and their conflicts. Curiously, one of the criticism I see of the book from other reviews is that it had a slow open. Go figure.

Last First Snow returns to Dresediel Lex, the setting for Two Serpents Rise, and even focuses on two of the central characters from that book — Temoc and the King in Red. Elayne Kevarian from Three Parts Dead also makes an appearance, as she’s trying to broker a peace between Temoc and the King. See, it’s been forty years since the end of the God Wars, where these two faced each other in battle; now that they’ve ended, they’re trying to find a way to live peaceably with each other. The book wouldn’t be interesting if it were an easy process, though, would it?

I have mixed feelings over how Gladstone approached the book. On the one hand, we already know Temoc from an earlier book, set later in the timeline, so we know what’s going to happen with his family; on the other hand, knowing future events creates some nice tension in the story, as we’re waiting to see when it happens; on yet another hand, though, knowing that it’s coming, we have to be convinced that what happens is for a good reason. Me, I’m not certain I’m convinced.

*spoiler*

Temoc nearly kills his son in order to imbue him with the power of his gods, before abandoning his family to go back to fight with his people. One of the central conflicts of the story is loyalty to family over loyalty to the group (Temoc being the leader of his people), so I get that he struggles with it, but it seemed too harsh for him to weigh his son’s life in that same struggle.

*end spoiler*

It’s hard to determine who the protagonists and antagonists are in this story, because while Temoc appears to be the protagonist, he does some terrible things to achieve his goals. By the same token, the King in Red is set up to be the antagonist, if for no other reason than he sees people as expendable, and relishes in death and destruction, but for at least half the book, you’ll find yourself rooting for him. Maybe the point of the book is that one can’t draw those lines too easily, that heroes and villains are not so clearly cut.

I powered through the end of the book, namely so I could move on to the next one and be done with the series. There’s a lot to like in the books, but reading them together like I did didn’t work for me. They got boring to me after a while, and I feel like I’m missing something that they’re not resonating with me like they do with other readers. To each their own, I guess.

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Full Fathom Five

June 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

fiveFull Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

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I always expect there to be a bit of time at the start of any book for me to get into it. Sometimes it takes a handful of pages, other times it takes me a few pages; it’s the ones that take several chapters or longer that make me take pause and ask if this is something I really want to read. It’s a good thing I had read the first two books in the Craft Sequence, otherwise I would have given up on this book a lot sooner, since it took me about 200 pages to get a feel for what was going on in Full Fathom Five.

Strangely, for a book that’s part of an already-established world, clearly defined in the previous two books, this book took its time in building up the story. Looking back, there’s nothing I could identify as anything to cut; instead, the first half of the book is just straight-up boring. Gladstone creates another vivid culture, this time based on Hawaii, and includes some vivid touches that will linger with the reader (the Penitents … brrrrr), but he also makes the first half of the book about two characters going on and on about either running away (Izzy) or trying to decide what to do next (Kai). Being paralyzed by indecision is certainly a relatable characteristic, but it makes for a less interesting plot.

The central premise of the story is that the workers on Kavekana create idols into which people can invest their Soulstuff, instead of relying on the Gods. It works fairly well, until one of them dies, though not before exhibiting signs of life. See, the idols aren’t sentient; they’re barely even conscious. When Kai believes one of them has spoken to her before it dies, it sends her down a rabbit hole of mystery and intrigue.

Up until about page 250 or so, I had planned on giving this book two stars, tops, but Gladstone does manage to weave his meanderings into a decent plot that encouraged me to give it 2.5 stars, rounded up to three. Plus, this book is the chronological end of the entire Craft Sequence, and the way Gladstone concluded everything with a touch of ambiguity surprised me. On the other hand, some of his style grated on me, like the way he would use “Izzi’d” or “Kai’d” instead of “Izzi had” or “Kai had”. This wasn’t in the dialogue, nor was the narrative in the first person; it just felt too lazy and informal for the story.

So, I’m a little disappointed, though I should also note that my feelings about the entire series are lower than other readers’. Urban Fantasy doesn’t do much for me, which could be part of it, but it doesn’t have that kind of OOMPH I get from other authors and books. The stories are good, and engaging, and even progressive (I love that he puts such a focus on women, people of color, and LGBTQs for his main characters), but they don’t feel as fun to read as other stories. Your mileage may vary, and I’m not giving up on the series yet, but Full Fathom Five is the least interesting of the books so far.

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Two Serpents Rise

June 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm (Reads) (, )

serpentsTwo Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

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I may have waited a bit too long between finishing this book and reviewing it, as already I feel like I’m losing some of the details from the book. On the other hand, good books tend to linger in your mind, so maybe the fact that I’m already forgetting parts of it is a bad sign. It definitely didn’t have the same kind of punch as Three Parts Dead, which might be due, in part, to much of the world-building already having been done. It didn’t feel as interesting, either, which is the main source of my disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot of cool stuff here. The water demons are especially memorable, and I think it’s a great idea that a world that trades in magic uses parts of their soul as currency. Plus, Gladstone draws on Mayan and Aztec culture to populate this city, which is something not seen often in fantasy fiction. He even adds a living skeleton as the CEO for one of the companies in the book, which was cool, except I’m a reader of The Order of the Stick, so I kept getting Xykon stuck in my head whenever he appeared in the story. I can’t fault the author for that, though. The biggest problem for me is the main plot is mostly a love story, when all of the other subplots in the book would have made for a better focus.

Caleb, our main character, works for a company that supplies water to a desert region, so it’s a big deal when he’s called out to investigate the possible poisoning of one of their reservoirs. Once there, he encounters a female runner who catches his attention, and, by all rights, is likely responsible for the poisoning. Smitten, Caleb proceeds to make a bunch of stupid decisions that prolong the investigation, simply because he’s convinced she couldn’t be involved. The story is still engaging (possibly more than Three Parts Dead, just because a large part of the world-building isn’t required here), and the plot is complex without being complicated, but I feel like Gladstone was aiming for a younger crowd by zooming in so much on that relationship.

What I like most about this book — and the series overall — is that it’s so different from Three Parts Dead. Instead of writing multiple books about the same character, Gladstone instead creates an entire world where each book can stand independent of the rest, because there’s so much possibility there. I wasn’t so disappointed in Two Serpents Rise that I was ready to give up on the entire series, but the fact that Gladstone’s universe is big enough to support a variety of possible stories gives me more of a reason to keep reading. That the story is about a water management company, and is still interesting, is a feat all by itself.

I’m taking a break from the series for a book or two, not out of lack of interest, but because I have a couple of new books I’ve been wanting to read. After that, I plan to return to Gladstone’s world and see what else he has up his sleeves. So long as he stays a little further away from the romance in them, I expect to like the rest of them as much as I liked the first.

 

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Three Parts Dead

May 31, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

threeThree Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

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The Craft Sequence has been on my radar for a while, but up until a few weeks ago, it hadn’t been a contender for reading outside of my normal schedule. That changed for two reasons: a friend of mine recently finished it and gave it a great review; and I read an article by Gladstone where he talked about the importance of character. The article was sharp and on point, and I realized if someone had that innate of an understanding of character, it was probably time for me to read his books.

Three Parts Dead is the first of five (so far) novels in the sequence, all told out of sequential order. Here, we meet Tara Abernathy, a woman who recently graduated from what amounts to mage school, but the mages here — known as Craftsmen — use their powers to enforce the law. When a god dies, she’s hired by a firm to help determine what caused his death, and how they can resurrect him. Simple stuff, right?

The book is touted as a combination urban fantasy and legal thriller, but honestly, it felt more like an urban fantasy mystery to me. I might be splitting hairs with my distinction, but other than the fact that part of the story takes place in court, I wouldn’t have thought of this as a legal thriller at all. It’s well written, with a complex plot that wraps up without cheating the reader, and it’s full of realized characters and creative ideas. It reminded me of China Miéville, though much more approachable and readable.

Gladstone fills this book with a lot of ideas — gods, vampires, and mages only touch the surface of his well — so much of the story is world-building. There’s a lot of it, but none of it feels out of place. Instead of relying on info-dumps throughout the story, Gladstone lets the details grow organically through dialogue, situations, and characters. It means that it will take a little more time to get the story, but I kind of like that approach to a story anyway.

There were moments in the story where I got lost, thanks in part to how much Gladstone was putting into the story, but it was also due to his getting too poetic in his narrative. He kept making comparisons that weren’t concrete (at one point he described something being “black as love”, or close to it), and they drew me out of the story. I get the feeling he was trying to avoid cliches, but I prefer similes that aren’t vague; they don’t make any sense in the end.

Overall, though, this is an impressive story. By the end, I was caught up enough in the story that I had to postpone my bedtime, and as the story drew to a close, the tension grew to the point where I could almost feel it. I had already picked up the remaining books in the series, thanks to all the good I had read about it, so I’m glad it turned out to be as good as I expected. I just hope the fact that they’re all published out of order won’t affect the rest of the series.

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